Remember traveling desktop to desktop with nothing but a few handheld tools and a DOS boot disk? Those days are long gone. IT professionals must now support a wide range of operating systems. And, chances are, the next machine you must resurrect may not even have a floppy drive!
A number of excellent troubleshooting tools are available when a system (PC or server) suffers a virus infestation, won't boot or otherwise fails. After talking to a number of technology consultants, however, I was struck by one recurring recommendation when I asked what tools and utilities I shouldn't be without in the field.
Several IT professionals recommended I carry a BartPE disc in my toolbox. Every time I visit a client I'm sure to carry a basic set of critical tools, and I heard that BartPE needed to be one of them.
What is BartPE? Promoted as "Admin's best friend," Bart's Preinstalled Environment is a troubleshooting CD you create yourself to help recover from system errors and failures. To build a BartPE CD you need an original Microsoft Windows XP or Microsoft Windows Server 2003 installation CD and the BartPE software (authored by Bart Lagerweij).
The preinstalled environment software can be found on the BartPE Website, which lives at www.nu2.nu.
Once created, a BartPE CD can be used to troubleshoot failed systems or even test systems that have no OS installed. You can also use BartPE to copy files from a failed system to a network hard drive, reset, perform virus scans, run executables from the command line and otherwise troubleshoot Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 problems.
Here's how to create a BartPE CD:
1. Obtain your original Windows setup CD and have it ready to go.
2. Go to www.nu2.nu to download the PE Builder (current version is 3.1.10a) self-installing package.
3. Click on the PE Builder v3 link.
4. Click the Download link.
5. Right-click the PE Builder v3.1.10a – self-installing package link and save it to your hard drive (you'll need to create the BartPE CD on a system with at least 500MB of free disk space).
6. Then, double-click the pebuilder3110a executable file.
7. Complete the PE Builder Setup Wizard, which will specify the Setup language (English is the default, the location where PE Builder should be installed, etc.).
8. Click on the new PE Builder icon (which the Setup Wizard creates).
9. Accept the PE Builder License, then specify the drive containing the original Windows CD.
10. Specify the location where PE Builder should place the ISO image file being created.
11.Click Build and confirm you wish to create the new directory.
12. Accept the Windows License, and the Build begins.
13. When PE Builder complete the build (my system took only a few minutes), the ISO image is ready to be burned to a CD. You can instruct PE Builder to burn the CD for you. On my system, however, PE Builder generated error messages when I tried. I was able to use my own CD creation software to create a bootable CD-ROM, though, without a problem.
Right Tool For The Job
When you've created your BartPE CD, you're ready to place it in a system (I recommend you work with a test machine first) for testing. Upon booting, instruct the system to boot from the CD. BartPE will begin installing.
The first prompt you'll see is for network support. You can use BartPE's PE Network Configurator to specify network settings. You can even instruct BartPE to use DHCP.
Once BartPE is running, you can open a command prompt, among other troubleshooting features. In addition to reading NTFS files, BartPE can work with compressed volumes (although it cannot read encrypted NTFS files). Because BartPE requires support for the /minint switch, BartPE will not work with Windows 2000 or earlier operating systems.
You can check out a sampling of some of the menus by viewing the BartPE photo gallery.
By working with BartPE in a test environment, you can prepare the CD, and its myriad number of supporting tools and plug-ins, for use in the field. It's a potent troubleshooting tool that I've found has already replaced my old DOS boot disk.
Licensing questions are bound to arise when using BartPE. I've seen several discussions in Internet forums debating the legality of using BartPE disks, as there are some gray areas regarding its creation of a Windows preboot environment. Here's what you need to know.
When using BartPE, you must possess a properly licensed copy of Windows XP or Windows Server 2003. The BartPE Web site reminds users that, "according to the Microsoft EULA for Windows XP/2003, a user may not simultaneously use more installations of these operating systems than the user has license(s) for."